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Giving voice to more than a dozen playwrights is bound to result in a mixed bag, and Villains is an especially large and sometimes cumbersome one. The Rage of the Stage's production of 13 original monologues sprawls over centuries, over fact and fiction, and over three-and-a-half hours. An ambitious and occasionally laudatory effort, Villains badly needs more discipline and tighter pacing than co-directors James Michael Shoberg and Allison M. Weakland can muster.

Part of the drag comes from the conceit that Villains is a literally Hellish cabaret in the "Boiler Room," serving and salving the ego of a Lucifer who looks like a Barbie head stuck onto a Ken body. Actor Stephen Chamberlain is stunning, but the shtick wears thin. Ditto for the scantily but creatively clad demons; the three men and three women provide useful punctuation in the various monologues, but their transitional scenes lean more toward tired gags than toward any insight advancing the theme.

That theme, of course, is to celebrate bad guys, sometimes by exploring what makes them tick, sometimes by channeling their evil through modern enterprises. Exemplifying the former is F.J. Hartland's "Fame ... It's a Bitch," with a masked Bryan Jackson as Jack the Ripper lamenting that though his story still fascinates people, his real self remains unknown.

There are several great examples of the latter modus operandi. I'm torn between Joseph A. Roots' "The Price of Beauty ... Before Tax," and Fred Betzner's "Blackest Pitch." Perhaps the most solidly produced piece, "Beauty" features Joanna Lowe as the 16th- and 17th-century murderess Countess Elizabeth Báthory, peddling her sanguinary rejuvenation potion in an infomercial. In "Pitch," Jeffrey J. Preberg Jr. is a credibly scary yet comic Nosferatu, marketing his vampiric autobiography to early Hollywood bigwigs.

Uncategorizable, meanwhile, is a wonderfully bizarre retelling of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." In Alyssa Herron's "A Legend Gone to Sleep," Dek Ingraham as a preppish riding instructor interprets the rather earthy mime of Tom Sterner's Headless Horseman. Would that all such license with established literary or historical facts be so clever. In too many Villains monologues, however, it simply comes off as inaccurate and cartoonish.

Rage of the Stage has produced a visual knockout in terms of costumes, props and special effects. But that exacting attention to detail (I loved the red spats on the delectably sleazy cabaret emcee, played by Joseph Lyons) does not translate to a cohesive whole.

 

Villains continues through Sat., April 19. Rage of the Stage Players at the Brewhouse, 2100 Mary St., South Side. 412-851-0922 or www.myspace.com/rageofthestage

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